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As a fan of the original Clone Wars micro-series, I was very happy to get my hands on a copy of the second volume of the show. The series again examines the events that occur between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, following Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker on many adventures as they struggle to restore peace and justice to the galaxy.

Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume Two
Feature
The second volume of the Clone Wars picks up where the first series ended, with a crack squad of clone troopers heading to Hypori to rescue a small band of Jedi from the clutches of the vile General Grievous. When they arrive they succeed in driving off the droid army and escaping with Ki-Adi-Mundi and the surviving Jedi, but Grievous himself manages to evade capture. Meanwhile, on Coruscant, Anakin is promoted to the rank of full Jedi Knight and reunited with the love of his life, Padmé Amidala. However, their time together is cut short when he and Obi-Wan are called away to the outer-rim sieges on a matter of great importance.

As months turn into years, Anakin and Obi-Wan earn a well-deserved reputation as cunning warriors and are hailed as heroes of the Republic. It is for this reason that they are chosen to journey to the planet Nelvaan, rumoured hiding place of General Grievous. Their investigation reveals no trace of the droid commander, but Anakin must face a greater challenge as he journeys within to confront his darkest fears. Meanwhile, Grievous initiates an all-out assault on Coruscant. However, this attack is merely a ruse to hide his true objective: kidnapping Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. With Mace Windu and Yoda busy defending the city from thousands of battledroids, it falls to a small group of Jedi, lead by Shaak-Ti, to defend the Chancellor from Grievous and his electrostaff-wielding Magnadroids.

Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume Two
The second volume of the Clone Wars micro-series is yet another fine companion to the movies. This time around the action concentrates more on the events leading up to the opening crawl of Revenge of the Sith, even going as far as to explain the mystery behind General Grievous’ hacking cough (courtesy of Mace Windu and the Force). We get to see the natural evolution of Obi-Wan and Anakin’s friendship, as well as the latter’s ascension to the rank of Jedi Knight and yet more hints about the darkness within his soul. It was nice to see the all-out assault on Coruscant the preceded the events of Sith, and I wish that the Grievous of the film had been closer to his animated incarnation (i.e. a lethal killing machine instead of an incompetent coward). As with the first series there are some amusing nods to the original trilogy with lines such as ‘What an incredible smell you’ve discovered’ and the like–guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of even the most cynical Star Wars fan.

I was critical of the short running time of the original series’ episodes, but this criticism is no longer applicable. Episodes now run for around twelve minutes, which allows for more exciting battles and greater character development. It’s true that there are fewer episodes, but the overall running time is approximately the same. As with the first series, the added benefit of having the show on DVD is that it runs as one continuous sixty-one minute movie, rather than five separate episodes. As before, each chapter stop corresponds to one of the original episodes, so you can watch them in that manner if you prefer.

Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume Two
Video
As with volume one, the anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer is top-notch. The image is nicely detailed with excellent colour rendition, and provides a fitting showcase for the unorthodox 'cell-shaded' animation style. The varied characters and locations have a unique look when compared with more traditional animation, but remain essentially faithful to their movie counterparts. It doesn’t make my job as a reviewer an easy one, but as with the previous volume I couldn’t spot any particularly obvious concerns with the transfer to DVD. There’s no point going on about aliasing, edge-enhancement or any other nasty issues, because they’re simply not there to be found. Once again this is a first-rate transfer that almost, but not quite, warrants the ‘reference quality’ quality tag.

Audio
The first volume in the series featured an excellent Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track that was a huge step up from watching the episodes on the web. My only real criticism of the audio on the previous release was that it wasn’t a full Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but thankfully this has been addressed for this second volume. The obvious benefit of a 5.1 track is that it offers discrete surround effects, which I’m pleased to report kick into life almost as soon as you press the play button. As the clone gunships swoop overhead, banking from left to right, the listener is taken along with them. Blaster fire ricochets around the soundstage and the LFE channel is employed to great effect as gigantic starships explode. Then there is the familiar hum of the lightsabers, which crackle with energy as they slice through droids left, right and centre. Of course the fact that the viewer is listening to the near-perfect effects from the Star Wars universe plays a major part in the success of this track, but the voice actors are also to be commended for once again delivering credible performances (particularly Obi-Wan and Mace Windu).

However, it’s not all good news. There are times when dialogue becomes lost in the mix, normally during the heat of battle. While the scores for the Star Wars prequels themselves are a little on the quiet side, here the score has a tendency to dominate the proceedings, resulting in the aforementioned indistinct dialogue. It’s a real pity and is the only thing that I can really criticise, but it has to be mentioned and I’ve scored accordingly. A Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track is also included for those without the hardware to handle the 5.1 track.

Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume Two
Extras
The best feature on the disc is undoubtedly the commentary by Tartakovsky and his team. This makes for a more interesting commentary track than the two overlapping efforts found on the previous volume, because the guys are able to bounce off of one another as they discuss the creative process. Among the topics up for discussion are the pressures of working to a limited timeframe, bridging the gap between the movies and showing the friendship that has developed between Anakin and Obi-Wan. It’s amazing how many little nods to the live-action movies this series contains, and the participants take great care to point most of them out. They also let slip an interesting little fact about the way in which General Grievous evolved from a lean, mean Jedi-killing machine into a total coward, and how they subsequently worked some dialogue into the picture to help explain his actions in Revenge of the Sith. George, you should have let them help you write!

The ten minute ‘Connecting the Dots’ featurette explores the ways in which this series bridged the gap between the first and second prequel movies, specifically in relation to the events leading up to the opening crawl of Revenge of the Sith. There’s plenty of footage from both the animated series and Sith itself, as the animators discuss how they planned the series by taking cues from the entire saga. The piece basically just explains the structure of the story that runs through the hour-long feature, but it was good to see the people who actually worked on the show. With that said, I’m not sure about the replay value.

A couple of storyboards and production image galleries come next, along with the full theatrical trailer for Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. Cue much snoring from me. Also included are the obligatory trailers for the Battlefront II and Empire at War video games, along with an X-Box demo for the former. Again, it’s all stuff we’ve seem before on other recent Star Wars release. Slightly better is a fun animated short entitled ‘Revenge of the Brick’. In it, animated Lego versions of Star Wars characters do battle in Episode III locations. It’s played for laughs and is actually quite humorous in places. However, it’s very short and the replay value is somewhat limited.

Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume Two
Overall
The second instalment of Clone Wars is a great companion piece to the Star Wars movies, and is arguably more fun than the prequels themselves. As with the previous release, image quality is excellent and the familiar music and effects do much to enhance the experience. However, this release suffers from the same problem as its predecessor: a lack of extras. One short featurette, a few still galleries and promotional trailers for other Lucasfilm/Lucasarts products aren’t exactly going to set the world alight. Thankfully the commentary is an improvement this time around, which goes some way towards redressing the balance.
 
I still have no problems recommending the release to anyone even vaguely familiar with Star Wars. This series really is a great attempt to bridge the gap between the first and second prequels and bodes well for the forthcoming animated Star Wars series (at least if it follows a similar pattern). Once again the retail price of sixteen pounds is asking a bit much for an hour’s worth of entertainment and a few, mostly uninteresting, extras, but if you shop around I’m sure that you’ll be able to grab yourself a copy at a reasonable price. Star Wars: Clone Wars – Volume 2 comes recommended.


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